X-Men are among my favorite movie superheroes and always have been. I’ve loved every edition in the series, with the exception of X-Men 2. Director Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, X-Men: Days of Future Past) has infused the franchise with fresh energy by adopting a sort of prequel format established in the last two or three movies. By introducing us to a younger Magneto, Mystique, Xavier, and company, Singer cleverly extends the life of the franchise. The only constant character is the perennial Wolverine (Hugh Jackman, Eddie the Eagle). Boasting additional new young iterations of our favorite characters, X-Men: Apocalypse did not disappoint.
The movie begins in ancient times, as the Egyptians engage in religious ritual. Their apparent ruler is a strange behemoth with purplish, leathery skin called En Sabah Nur (Oscar Isaac, Ex Machina). He will eventually come to be known as Apocalypse, and his existence proves mutants were around long before Professor X (James McAvoy, X:Men: Days of Future Past) became aware of them. Apocalypse and his followers attempt a supernatural energy exchange with another person, which is disrupted by dissidents seeking to overthrow his regime. Apocalypse is buried alive, left undisturbed until the Egyptian ground shifts and he is awakened thousands of years later in 1983.
After his epic snooze, Apocalypse awakens to a world dominated by humans. He doesn’t like mutants’ stature and seeks to upset the proverbial apple cart by encouraging them to take their rightful place atop the food chain. He quickly assembles a team, including (a much younger) Storm (Alexandra Shipp, Straight Outta Compton), Magneto (Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs), and newcomers Angel and Psylocke (Olivia Munn, Zoolander 2). Religious themes ran throughout the movie, with Apocalypse displaying god-like abilities as he actually makes his team of mutants better. He enhances their powers and shows them how to maximize their gifts. For example, we know Magneto controls metal objects. If there’s no metal readily available, one might think he’d be powerless in that moment. However, there are metals and minerals in the ground. Magneto can literally move mountains if he wanted.
Professor X learns of Apocalypse, whose powers are nearly insurmountable. Meanwhile, enrollment at Xavier’s School For Gifted Youngsters increases as Scott Summers/Cyclops (Tye Sheridan, Mud) joins the fray. It was fascinating to see younger versions of the familiar characters we’ve come to know and love. It was particularly cool to see the first meeting between Cyclops and Jean (Sophie Turner, Game of Thrones), who will go on to have quite a love affair, albeit an intermittently one-sided one. I also enjoyed the barrage of 80’s pop culture references, from Thriller jackets to Tab soda. The film establishes the clear ideological dichotomy between mutants that runs throughout (chronologically) later films. Xavier is a pacifist almost to a fault, recognizing the importance of educating his students in a classroom, but leaving them woefully unprepared for battle and unequipped for self-defense. Apocalypse forces him to open his mind to a new approach, turning the tables on the benevolent professor and setting the stage for a showdown between good and evil.
A summer day at the movies should be entertaining, action-packed, and fun. With spot-on casting and a strong yet simple plot, X-Men: Apocalypse was all that and much more. I can’t wait to see what Marvel Studios has in store for us next. Grade: A-